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What is bodily injury liability insurance?

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Key takeaways

  • Bodily injury liability insurance offers protection for out-of-pocket expenses when you cause injuries to others in an auto accident.
  • Bodily injury liability insurance does not cover medical costs for you and your passengers. It also does not pay to repair damage to vehicles or property.
  • Most states require that residents maintain minimum levels of bodily injury liability coverage but many experts recommend increasing these limits to realistically address the risk in today’s litigious environment.

Nearly every state in the United States requires vehicle owners to maintain a minimum level of car insurance in order to be able to operate their vehicles legally. Minimum coverage policies typically include bodily injury liability insurance. But knowing how much bodily injury liability you need will depend on where you live — and meeting the minimum protection may not be sufficient compared to the recommended amount of bodily injury coverage. It may be a good idea to know how much protection you are required to have by state law.

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What is bodily injury liability?

Bodily injury coverage pays for the other party’s medical expenses if you are at fault in an accident. If you injure the other driver (or their passengers) in an at-fault accident, your bodily injury coverage will typically step in to pay. It’s important to know, however, that if the other party’s medical bills exceed the amount of bodily injury coverage on your policy, you are responsible for making up the difference.

If you don’t have the funds to pay, the other party could take you to court to recoup the unpaid losses related to the accident. To avoid what could be a significant out-of-pocket expense, it’s generally advisable that you carry sufficient bodily injury coverage. The best car insurance companies will help tailor a package that balances affordability with protection.

What does bodily injury liability insurance cover?

Bodily injury liability coverage can help pay several types of expenses, including:

  • Funeral expenses: If you are involved in an accident that results in the death of another driver, your bodily injury liability coverage can help to cover the costs of the other person’s funeral and burial.
  • Legal expenses: When an accident victim sues you for causing bodily injuries, this type of coverage can help pay your attorney’s fees and a court award.
  • Lost wages: If the physical injuries caused by an accident leave a person unable to work, bodily injury liability coverage can cover lost income while they recover.
  • Medical bills: Bodily injury liability coverage can help pay various medical expenses, including emergency room fees, hospital costs, medical equipment and surgery bills. The coverage can also pay for doctor’s visits and rehabilitation costs.
  • Pain and suffering: Pain and suffering caused by an injury stemming from an accident may be covered by bodily injury liability coverage.

What does bodily injury liability insurance not cover?

As you can see, bodily injury liability coverage can cover a variety of expenses. However, it will not cover:

  • Medical expenses of you and your passengers: To cover the medical bills of you and your passengers, you will need to carry medical payments or personal injury protection coverage.
  • Damage to another driver’s vehicle: To cover damage you cause to another driver’s car, you will need property damage liability coverage. This type of insurance is usually required with a minimum coverage policy.
  • Damage to your automobile: Collision and comprehensive coverages protect your vehicle when you cause an accident. Bodily injury liability coverage does not provide any coverage for your vehicle’s repairs.

How much bodily liability injury insurance do you need?

Most states require motorists to carry a minimum amount of car insurance. This usually includes bodily injury and property damage liability insurance. In no-fault states, drivers typically must carry personal injury protection (PIP).

When you research the compulsory coverages you must carry, you will likely see the requirements represented as three numbers, separated by forward slashes. For example, Arizona requires drivers to carry bodily injury and personal property liability coverages, with minimum limits of 25/50/15. Here is what each number means:

  • 25: $25,000 in bodily injury liability coverage to pay for the medical costs of one person’s injuries in a single accident.
  • 50: $50,000 in bodily injury liability coverage to pay for the medical costs of all injuries in a single accident.
  • 15: $15,000 in property damage liability coverage to pay for another driver’s property repairs when you are at fault for an accident.

Is bodily injury coverage required in every state?

Although nearly every state requires bodily injury coverage, some exceptions exist, namely Florida, New Hampshire, Virginia and New Jersey. While these states may not explicitly require bodily injury coverage, they do have other mandates that drivers must meet to satisfy state requirements

Florida

In Florida, the only two coverages you are required to carry are personal injury protection (PIP) and property damage liability (PDL) insurance. The minimum coverage limits are $10,000 for PIP and $10,000 for PDL. The only time that Floridians are required to carry bodily injury liability insurance is after a DUI conviction. If you have been convicted of a DUI in Florida, you must carry bodily injury liability coverage for three years after your license has been reinstated.

Learn more: Florida car insurance laws

New Hampshire

New Hampshire car insurance laws are unique. In fact, New Hampshire is one of the only states in the country that does not require car insurance. However, if you choose to purchase car insurance in New Hampshire, the minimum liability coverage requirements are 25/50/25. You’re also required to purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance and medical payments coverage if you buy car insurance for personal use.

Virginia

While Virginia does not technically require its drivers to carry car insurance, they must pay a yearly $500 uninsured motorist fee to waive the typical insurance requirement. Even if a driver opts to pay the uninsured motorist fee, the uninsured driver is still held liable for any damage or injuries they may cause in an accident.

Learn more: Virginia car insurance laws

New Jersey

There are two main policy types available in New Jersey: basic and standard. Although bodily injury coverage is required under a standard policy (and minimum coverage amounts were recently raised), this coverage is optional for those covered under a basic policy. However, drivers with a basic policy can still choose to carry bodily injury, but the maximum limit is quite low at $10,000 per accident.

Learn more: New Jersey car insurance laws

Consequences for driving without bodily injury liability insurance

Even if you live in a state that doesn’t require bodily injury, waiving this coverage could have devastating consequences. According to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I), the national average cost of bodily injuries in an accident was $20,235 in 2020. For many drivers, this unexpected expense could be a tremendous hardship, leading to asset forfeiture and even bankruptcy.

Aside from the possibility of a hefty out-of-pocket payout, being involved in an at-fault accident without carrying bodily injury can cause license suspensions and fines, even if this coverage is optional. Take Florida, for instance. If you’re at fault in an accident, cause injuries and don’t carry bodily injury coverage, the DMV can suspend your license if you did not supply the proper documents to meet financial responsibility requirements. Additionally, you may be required to carry SR-22 insurance.

Are each state’s bodily injury liability limits enough?

Although many states require drivers to carry a minimum amount of bodily injury liability insurance, that doesn’t mean the minimum coverage limits are sufficient if you cause an accident.

For example, California requires all motorists to carry at least $15,000 worth of bodily injury coverage to pay the medical bills of one person in an accident and $30,000 to cover the medical costs of more than one person. If you hit another driver and their medical bills were $50,000, you would have to pay the remaining $35,000 out-of-pocket.

Financial experts recommend that you carry at least $100,000 in bodily injury liability coverage for one injured person and $300,000 to pay the expenses of multiple victims in an accident. Most major car insurance providers will allow you to increase your coverage to these levels, perhaps even higher.

For maximum protection, you might also consider purchasing a personal umbrella liability policy. Umbrella insurance takes over when you reach your car insurance liability coverage limits. For example, if you cause an accident and the other driver sustains an injury that costs $350,000 in medical expenses but you only carry $300,000 in bodily injury liability coverage, your umbrella policy can cover the additional $50,000.

Although they start at $1 million in coverage, an umbrella policy is generally one of the cheaper insurance policies you can buy. A single umbrella policy adds an extra layer of liability coverage to your auto and home or renters policies.

Frequently asked questions

    • Typically, you can find information about your state’s compulsory car insurance requirements on your state’s department of insurance website. Some state departments of transportation also have insurance requirements on their websites. Local insurance agents will know how much coverage is needed in your state, but it is always a good idea to research the information on your own before shopping and comparing car insurance rates.
    • Filing a car insurance claim is generally a straightforward process, but the steps can vary from company to company. For example, some insurers have an online portal or mobile app that allows for electronic claim filing. Others may require that you call your local agency or a 24/7 claims hotline. To find out more about the claims process for your insurer, it may be helpful to ask your agent for specifics.
    • According to Bankrate’s analysis of premium rate data from Quadrant Data Services, the national average cost of car insurance for a minimum coverage liability-only policy is $622 per year. Depending on your circumstances, though, you may pay more or less than average. Car insurance companies may use several factors to calculate your rate, including your location, vehicle, driving history and, depending on your state, your credit score. It can be helpful to shop around and get personalized quotes if you’re looking for the cheapest car insurance companies for bodily injury coverage.

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